A.G. NOORANI warns us of being “unsafe and unhistorical to cite the Gandhian precedent before independence” (“Gandhi's no to satyagraha”, August 26). Noorani has tried to establish that both Gandhiji and B.R. Ambedkar were against satyagraha in the post-Independence era. Gandhiji was perhaps more conscious of the dangers of being misunderstood and misrepresented by his readers and others. Books of his original writings carry a note “To The Reader” originally written by him in his journal ( Harijan, 29-4-1933, page 2). It says: “ I am not at all concerned with appearing to be consistent…. When anybody finds any inconsistency between any two writings of mine, if he has still faith in my sanity, he would do well to choose the later of the two on the same subject.”
To be “safe” and “historical”, I would like to start from Gandhi's martyrdom so that nothing remains later than that. Gandhi gave Pyarelalji a new draft Constitution for the Congress that he had prepared the previous day. “The struggle for the ascendancy of civil over military power is bound to take place in India's progress towards its democratic goal.” The draft contained this prediction. We can easily imagine the nature of the struggle that Gandhi had imagined. It would have been fought through peaceful and pure means. Gandhiji observed a fast (a mode of satyagraha) on Independence Day. He was asked whether he would leave politics after August 15, 1947. Gandhiji replied, “In the first instance there is no freedom approaching the Kingdom of God. We seem to be as far from it as ever. And in any case the life of the millions is my politics from which I dare not free myself without denying my life work and God. That my politics may take a different turn is quite possible. But that will be determined by circumstances ( Harijan, 17-8-1947, page 281).
His last two post-Independence fasts, in Kolkata and Delhi respectively, were in the wake of communal violence after Partition. Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel were in the saddle of power. Noorani is known for his writings on communalism and should not deny Gandhiji's contribution through these two fasts and ultimately by his utmost sacrifice. Gandhiji's speeches and writings on satyagraha have been sanctified by his righteous practice and suffering the consequences of breaking unjust laws. Moreover, they are written for all time. His incisive logic is unanswerable.
Gandhiji has made it amply clear that he believed in the supremacy of the people. In his famous booklet “Constructive Programme: Its meaning and place”, he elaborated his vision in clear terms: “The truth is that power resides in the people and it is entrusted for the time being to those whom they may choose as their representatives. Parliaments have no power or even existence independently of the people. Civil Disobedience is the storehouse of power.”
Ambedkar delineated how fundamental rights can be effective. He said: “Rights are protected not by law but by the social and moral conscience of society.” The social and moral conscience of the Indian people protected these fundamental rights when they got an opportunity to choose between democracy and dictatorship in the 1977 general elections. In spite of all the infighting in the Janata Party, its government should be remembered for the historical amendment it made to the Constitution to make “internal emergency” next to impossible.
The right to undertake civil disobedience, or satyagraha, in any parliamentary democracy by a citizen is a fundamental right. To criticise this right is to negate the basic democratic system.